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Depressed? It May Have Started in the Womb

Adult depression may start as early as the womb
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

Researchers studying the effects of pregnancy depression have turned up some pretty ... well, depressing findings: if your mom was depressed while pregnant, you have a greater chance (albeit a slight one) of being a depressed adult, too.

The Bristol University study tracked the offspring of more than 8,000 moms who were diagnosed with either postnatal or antenatal depression. And as it turned out, those kids were 1.3 times more likely to suffer from clinical depression by age 18 than others.

The bright side? Medical treatment during pregnancy could improve things, hopefully intercepting the impact on the child's future mental health. But as we all know, antidepressant use during pregnancy isn't exactly an embraced practice. In fact, it's pretty controversial. And let's not forget, adult depression can be brought on anyway by a slew of other things, both environmental and biological.

But either way, the study's results are eye-opening, and could lead to a shift in how we view what's often billed as run-of-the-mill pregnancy hormones or "baby blues."

"Depression in pregnancy should be taken seriously and treated in pregnancy," says one of the study's lead researchers, Dr. Rebecca Pearson. "It looks like there is a long-term risk to the child, although it is small."

Of course, Pearson was quick to note that researchers need more time and even more studies to reach definitive answers. For now, all they can say for sure is that they've found an association, not a direct cause.

But for Professor Carmine Pariante of King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry, it's been known for awhile now that our mental health does start in the womb.

"The message is clear," he said. "Helping women who are depressed in pregnancy will not only alleviate their suffering but also the suffering of the next generation."

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